October 29, 2013

The Politics of Kissing

[Image that landed the teenagers from Nador in jail.]
During the beginning of this month, two teenagers from the northern city of Nador were arrested for uploading an image of them kissing one another. The two teenagers and a male friend, presumably the one who took the picture, face charges of “public indecency.” After they were held in a juvenile detention center, the teenagers’ trial was postponed on 12 October 2013 until 22 November. The defense attorney cited the pursuit of “an inquiry into the social circumstances of the teenagers” as the reason for the trial’s delay. In reaction to the arrest of these teenagers, a solidarity campaign entitled #FreeBoussa was launched on social media. The campaign included images of couples kissing one another and calls for a sit-in, which ended up taking place in Rabat on 12 October 2013.

Multiple layers embedded in this case and the reaction that followed merits a deeper reading. Firstly, the arrest of these teenagers was, first and foremost, a grave violation of their right of expression. With the public prosecution citing laws relating to “public indecency,” it demonstrates the role of the state in policing social norms and defining morals along conservative lines. Secondly, the state’s role as the “social” police is bolstered by its socioeconomic policies that have marginalized the Rif region, where the arrest of these teenagers took place (specifically the city of Nador). The relationship between the state and the inhabitants of the Rif region, more so than the rest of Morocco, has been rife with a history of violence, oppression, and deprivation—policies that emerged from under the reign of Mohammed V, were strengthened under Hassan II, and solidified under Mohammed VI. Thirdly, the solidarity campaign that grew in response to the arrest of these teenagers has succeeded in gaining wider media attention and drawing more scrutiny to the case. To the extent that it has it has acted as a societal disruption, such as the public kiss-in that took place in Rabat, aspects of the campaign uncritically embrace liberal views on individual freedoms. Such an approach, which fails to address the fact that the arrest of these teenagers is beyond the simple act of kissing, opens the window for more state oppression.